Happy endings aren’t just for the big screen. It also happens in real life.
These seven actors started their careers at the top of their game. However, their excellent acting was quickly overshadowed by substance abuse and poor film choices, which threatened to destroy their careers. Rather than fall by the Hollywood wayside, these seven stars fought their way back to the top.
1. Robert Downey Jr.
Downey Jr. quickly made a name for himself in the ‘80s for films such as Back to School, Less Than Zero, and The Pick-up Artist. However, his thriving career took a toll as he struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, which eventually landed him in jail several times. Those arrests cost him several movie and TV roles, including a spot in Fox’s Ally McBeal in 2001, per Business Insider. Soon, many in Hollywood had decided the talented actor was no longer worth hiring.
But he didn’t let it ruin his career. He checked into rehab in 2003 and came back determined to fight his way back to the top. “Smoking dope and smoking coke, you are rendered defenseless. The only way out of that hopeless state is intervention,” Downey Jr. told the Daily News.
He found his way out, and came back determined to make a name for himself. Downey Jr. went on to appear in lead roles in many blockbuster hits, including Tropic Thunder, Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes, and The Avengers. In 2013, Forbes listed Downey Jr. as one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors, bringing in an estimated $75 million in earnings between June 2012 and June 2013.
2. Drew Barrymore
Barrymore started her career at a young age, starring in E.T. in 1982 and Irreconcilable Differences in 1984. She was also in Firestarter and Cat’s Eye, quickly becoming Hollywood’s modern day Shirley Temple. But like many other child stars, Barrymore struggled with substance abuse. Barrymore had her first drink at nine, began smoking marijuana at 10, and at 12 she took up cocaine. At 13, she had twice undergone extensive drug rehabilitation treatment, per People.
After several failed stints in rehab in her early teens, one of which was brought on by a suicide attempt, things weren’t looking good for Barrymore. But she eventually got back on track. Betty Confidential writes that she filed for legal emancipation and stayed with her friend and singer David Crosby and his wife, both survivors of their own struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, and she slowly but surely worked her way back to stardom by appearing in ‘90s romantic comedies, such as The Wedding Singer and Ever After.
3. Leonardo DiCaprio
We first saw DiCaprio as a guest star on Growing Pains and an autistic teenager in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Eventually, he hit star status starring as Jack on the Titanic and Romeo in Romeo + Juliet. Many wondered how he would possibly be able to top his performance in the Titanic. He couldn’t — at least not right away. Viewers begin seeing DiCaprio in box office flops such as The Man in the Iron Mask, writes Betty Confidential. Finally, he stepped away from the acting scene for a bit and came back in 2001 determined to be known for more than just his role in the Titanic. DiCaprio returned to Hollywood fame with 2002’s Catch me If You Can, a movie that was well-received by critics and viewers. Things have been uphill for DiCaprio ever since, as he continues to star in one hit after another, including Inception, The Great Gatsby, and The Wolf of Wall Street.
4. Neil Patrick Harris
Harris started out at the top of his game with his four-season run as Dr. Doogie Howser. ABC canceled Doogie Howser, M.D. in 1993, and just like that Harris was gone, according to Backstage. Granted, he was in a few small TV appearances here and there, but for the most part it seemed as though he was destined to just be another Hollywood one-hit wonder.
Fast-forward to 2004, and Harris began to get his career back on track with Harold and Kumar. His real claim to fame, however, was landing the role of Barney Stinson in CBS’ How I Met Your Mother. Take a look at Harris’ resume nowadays, and you’ll find he’s hosted the Tony Awards multiple times in addition to winning three Emmys.
5. Alec Baldwin
Baldwin never really dropped off the Hollywood radar altogether, but things have certainly been up and down for him. He started out strong, playing key roles in films such as The Hunt for Red October, Beetlejuice, and Glengarry Glen Ross. His acting was put on the sidelines, though, during his very public divorce with his ex-wife Kim Basinger. After that, Baldwin secluded himself from the public, not appearing in anything for quite a while. But thanks to NBC’s 30 Rock (and Tina Fey), Baldwin is back and better than ever. In fact, he’s earned multiple Emmy nominations and won two awards for best actor for his role as Jack Donaghy.
However, drama tends to follow Baldwin wherever he does, and he’s once again considering withdrawing from the public altogether. “I probably have to move out of New York. I just can’t live in New York any more. Everything I hated about L.A., I’m beginning to crave. L.A. is a place where you live behind a gate, you get in a car, your interaction with the public is minimal. I used to hate that. But New York has changed,” Today reports Baldwin saying. Perhaps, years from now, we’ll be seeing Baldwin make his second comeback into the spotlight.
6. John Travolta
There was a time when Travolta was the laughing stock of Hollywood. The former Grease and Saturday Night Fever chose to star in some terrible movies in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (do the Look Who’s Talking movies ring a bell?), causing many to assume his career was over. That’s not what happened, though. Flavorwire writes that Travolta’s comeback came when Quentin Tarantino cast him as mafia hitman Vincent Vega in the 1994 film Pulp Fiction. Just like that, a star was reborn. While he only made around $100,000 for the role, it paved the way for a string of solid films, including Get Shorty, Primary Colors and A Civil Action.
7. Mickey Rourke
Rourke was an outstanding actor early on in his career, starring in hits such as Barfly, Diner, Rumble Fish, and Angel Heart. In 1991, he left Hollywood to pursue his dream of becoming a professional boxer. Pursuing his boxing dream came with a hefty price. Not only did it take him away from several big movie roles, but it also did permanent damage to his face, making him almost unrecognizable despite years of plastic surgery. He eventually found his Hollywood footing. He played a small role in 2005’s Sin City, but his big break came with The Wrestler where he played Randy “The Ram” Robinson and earned a Golden Globe for his performance, according to Backstage.